VHS Rehabilitation physical therapist shares best part of job is focus on individuals

Nancy Funkhouser doesn’t mind putting 100 to 125 miles on her car in a day. It’s part of the job.

And it’s a job she loves. Funkhouser is a physical therapist with VHS Rehabilitation whose patients are all coordinated through VHS Home Health Care.

“To have the privilege to do something that makes you happy, and that pays your bills, that’s like the best of both worlds. I don’t know why you’d work anywhere else or do anything else,” she says.

Focus on individuals

The role allows her to focus solely on an individual.

“The thing I love about home care is it’s you and your patient one-on-one,” Funkhouser says. “That patient gets 150% of your attention, 150% of your effort and it’s just you and them. No other outside distractions or pull to your focus.”

VHS Home Health Care helps get individuals back to living their best life by providing skilled care in the comfort of their home. The home health team contracts physical, occupational and speech therapists through VHS Rehabilitation as part of Virginia Health Services’ spectrum of services.

The VHS lines of service give individuals the best access to their care needs regardless of where they live in southeast Virginia.

Because of the nature of skilled home health care, time is often determined by insurance. Funkhouser says, “You really need to pack in as much as you can in those sessions to get as much potential and gain and recovery of function as you can.”

The supervisors make an initial visit to open a care plan and create goals with the individual. The treatment plan is rolled out to the clinical team.

“Everybody is focused on giving the patients what they need. You hope that by the end of your time with them, you’ve met the goals for your patient.”

Nancy Funkhouser

The team’s consistency allows individuals to see the same faces, “which is always better for overall patient recovery,” Funkhouser said.

Status changes can be identified and dealt with quickly when you and your team members know a patient. And the more you see them, the more they get to know you.

“When I’m with them, I give them as much as I can in the time we have,” she says.

Being a PT

Funkhouser knew she wanted to be a therapist since she was a teenager. She observed the therapists who worked with her father after he had major open-heart surgery.

That exposure to therapists in the hospital inspired her to be a therapist. She volunteered in high school and then went to school for therapy.

She spent 20 years in a hospital setting before working in home health settings a decade ago. She joined VHS Rehabilitation about six years ago and started with VHS Home Health Care a few months after it launched in 2015.

Working with VHS Home Health Care and VHS Rehabilitation put Funkhouser “in an optimal position to do what I do best, and that’s get wrapped up with the patient and get them better.”

It’s rewarding. There is independence and autonomy for the clinical team in providing quality care to the individuals VHS Home Health Care and Rehab serve.

“Here, everybody is focused on giving the patients what they need,” she says. “You hope that by the end of your time with them, you’ve met the goals for your patient.”

The passion for patients and for the job come through in Funkhouser’s voice.

“At the end of the day, I feel like if it’s a job you really like a lot, you tend to give a lot of yourself to it,” she said. “It’s just a win-win.”

12 VHS apprentices graduate to Nurse Aides

Twelve Care Assistants/Temporary Nurse Aides graduated to Nurse Aides on Friday in Styron Square at Port Warwick in Newport News.

The two classes were taught at the Virginia Health Services Education Center (EEE) and James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center by instructors Princess Henderson and Nora Gillespie.

The graduates are all participants in the apprenticeship program. The earn-as-you-learn program has transitioned to a hybrid classroom and on-the-floor experience. Our apprentices are employed by VHS and are placed at our nursing and rehabilitation centers. The cost of their certification exam to be a CNA is covered by the program.

The James River graduates are: Faith Barich (valedictorian), Tyonna Braxton, Triniti Brown, Emani Greene, Armoni Hendley, Josie Jayne (salutatorian) and Dynesha Redmond.

The EEE graduates are: Jazmyn George, Koreen Hill (valedictorian), Kaitlyn Mayo (salutatorian), Charles Richardson and Andrea Wright.

Congratulations to all of our graduates! We are glad to have you on the team!

Become an apprentice

Virginia Health Services offers an earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program that graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides. It includes classroom and on-the-floor training and covers the cost of the certification exam. The next class is slated to start Aug. 1, so be on the lookout for the job posting in late June. To apply, visit vahs.com/careers.

Virginia Health Services leaders featured on podcast about strategy innovation

Peter Murphy Lewis, the host of Experience Care’s LTC Heroes podcast, has long been interested in the innovative thinking of the leadership team at Virginia Health Services (VHS).

He asked VHS President and CEO Mark Klyczek and Vice President of Strategy and Business Development Eric Gommel to share the story of how they teamed up at VHS on his show:

Strategy and Growth

When Lewis asked Gommel why he wanted to “join forces” with Klyczek, Gommel shared that he admired Klyczek’s leadership style, which he experienced working with Klyczek at a previous health system.

“He’s great at executing on initiatives, but he also approaches his work with a sense of humor,” Gommel said. “And that sort of management style really attracted me.”

The discussion shifted to why Klyczek created the role Gommel would later fill.

“I knew we had to reposition Virginia Health Services,” Klyczek told Lewis. He needed someone with the specific skill set and experience in data and analytics, as well as facilitating and executing on strategy, that Gommel possesses.

“What Eric’s been able to do is accelerate our growth and our strategic initiatives,” Klyczek said. “I can only do so much, but Eric is really able to take the ideas and things that we come up with together, and run with them, making sure that they’re executed.”

Sprints: Focusing on Key Strategic Initiatives

The podcast host was familiar with Sprints but had not heard of them in the context of long-term care before the interview.

Gommel said he faced a challenge in introducing the VHS strategic plan and initiatives that went with it. He and Klyczek began to focus on a smaller, more achievable number of initiatives.

“The idea was to break the strategic plan into digestible pieces,” Gommel said. “We started with an eight-week cycle and have moved to a quarterly cycle. We then tried to narrow down to less than 10 specific initiatives with measurable deliverables.”

Gommel said the initial strategic plan was introduced during leadership meetings. He and Klyczek listened to feedback from executives, narrowed the focus and shortened the time horizon.

“This isn’t some fancy thing that we had to buy or pay for,” Klyczek said of how he and Gommel communicate the plan and track its progress. “We just leveraged Excel. Every time we meet as a senior leadership team, everybody has to report on their initiatives.”

Gommel continues to develop new, exciting ideas with the leadership team that will guarantee Virginia Health Services’ future success as well.

“What really excites me is our future projects,” Gommel said. “Those include initiatives focused on workforce development and extending programs Mark and the team have put in place over the past year.”

This blog was written and provided by the content team at LTC Heroes.

We celebrate our VHS Residents during National Skilled Nursing Care Week

It’s National Skilled Nursing Care Week (May 8-14)! We are spotlighting some of our VHS Residents at Virginia Health Services’ seven nursing and rehabilitation centers. Our team supports our Residents in living their best life as they age with us.

We appreciate their time and the time of their visiting families and friends who all were so open in telling their stories.

Coliseum Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Man about town

Curtis Cofield is a man about town —or at least about Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The Newport News native uses his motorized chair to visit Residents and team members throughout the center in Hampton.

“I know everybody in here. Every day I can get out of bed, I make my rounds,” he says.

Curtis is a Vietnam War veteran and former bricklayer. He entered Coliseum about three years ago. He had a heart transplant following a massive heart attack in 2003.

Coliseum Resident Curtis Cofield

“I ain’t stressing. (Not since then.) Not going to worry about it; the next time might kill me,” he says of staying calm and maintaining a routine at Coliseum.

Not only does he know the Residents and team members at Coliseum, he used to be married to a current Resident.

“My ex-wife is here too,” he says. “We’re friends. … We get along better now than when we were married!”

Curtis has a sister and one son who live nearby and visit. His other four children are “spread out across the country.”

He graduated from Phenix High School in Hampton, and lived in Hampton and Newport News most of his life. He worked as part of a bricklayer union for 29 years, “anywhere I could work.”

His father was a bricklayer and owned a business.

“The guys there taught me how to do it,” he said. “I enjoyed the work. It was a lot of fun.”

He has lost both legs by amputation since coming to Coliseum because of vascular and other issues. But being able to chat up folks around Coliseum helps him pass the day.

“I learned how to deal with it by keeping myself busy; keeping going,” he says.

Brave lady’

She sits quietly near the same spot in the Coliseum dining room. She doesn’t like to miss the activities.

Isabel Santiago has been at Coliseum since June 2021. It’s closer to her daughter Mivia (Mimi), who visits her almost every day before going to work in the evenings. Isabel transferred there from VHS-owned Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center following rehab from a stroke. She lived with Mimi for five years before that.

“They’re keeping me busy,” Isabel says. “I do whatever they have.”

Coliseum Resident Isabel Santiago and her daughter, Mimi.

She originally is from Ponce, Puerto Rico. She first came to the U.S. when she was 14 years old in search of work to help support her family at home.

“This brave lady went to New York City at 14 by herself,” her daughter says proudly. “A cab driver checked to make sure the apartment she was going to was safe before letting her out of the cab.”

Isabel is the mother of eight. She has numerous grandchildren, and great- and great-great grandchildren.

She and her husband met while they lived in New York City. They were childhood sweethearts and were married for 52 years before her husband passed away from cancer in 2013.

“The neighborhood raises family,” Mimi said of growing up in the Bronx where everyone looked out for everyone else’s kids.

Isabel got her GED so she wouldn’t have to quit her jobs to go to school. She traveled between family in Puerto Rico and NYC. She was a social worker in New York City and helped mediate gang relations in schools.

“I enjoy relating to people,” she says.

Isabel also moved to where her children were, spending time in Texas and Florida before moving to Virginia to be closer to Mimi.

“I have friends in a lot of places,” she said, adding she really liked Texas.

She was a receptionist at a hospital in Texas, and in other health clinics. She retired at age 72.

Isabel says she is enjoying her time at Coliseum, and really likes the staff and the activity programs. She and her daughter are happy with the rehabilitation services.

“She’s doing really good here,” Mimi says.

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Centenarian

Katherine Gatewood has been at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center “a long, long time,” she says, smiling. She can’t recall the date, but estimates it was around 2005.

She will be 100 years old on May 14, which she greets with a shrug.

A collage of photos from Katherine Gatewood’s life hangs in her room at James River

“If I were able to go out, be more active, I’d enjoy (turning 100) more,” she says.

Katherine says she is hopes her family is able to visit for the milestone.

She was joined for our interview by her therapist Mavis, who says they do “talk therapy.”

They have been working together for about a year and a half, Mavis said.

Katherine says she was born and raised in Newport News, and a bit of a homebody in that she didn’t travel much. But she did have an active social life, she says.

She worked as a telephone operator and bookkeeper—“nothing to brag about,” she says with a shrug — and says her greatest accomplishment was raising her children.

“Raising children was the most fun, watching them grow and mature,” she says.

One son and his family live in Wilmington, N.C., and another is in Virginia Beach. He comes to visit weekly and does her laundry. Both sons call every day.

Katherine Gatewood turns 100 on May 14.

They help keep her abreast of the family, which includes one grandson and two great-granddaughters who are in college and have studied abroad in France and Italy.

Her room at James River is homey, with lots of family photos on the walls. Her sons “made the room feel like home. Guess they figured I’d be here a while,” she says with a chuckle.

Katherine’s father was a college professor and her mother stayed home to raise her. She was an only child.

Her family was the first to have a refrigerator on their block and the neighbors would come by to look at it, she says.

While she can’t recall how long she was married, she was widowed young. Her husband died at age 53. She never remarried because she says, “he was my soulmate. He was a good man.”

She developed many friendships over the years, including several friends from St. Vincent’s Catholic Church. They keep in touch now more by phone because of various health issues — “I might be in the best shape of all them,” she says.

Kind word for all

Sandra Jordan has been at James River for 12 years. She recently lost her only son, and there’s little family remaining.

James River Resident Sandra Jordan.

The team at James River “look out for me and help me,” she says. She uses a wheelchair.

Sandra was from New York, and moved to the area first to attend Hampton University. In her first year, she met and married her husband.

“I just stayed after that,” she says.

They divorced when their son turned 18, she says, but remained friends.

“I’ve been single ever since.”

She worked as a kitchen supervisor at Sentara for 15 years and Riverside for 10 years, so “I’m particular about the food,” she says.

Sandra believes in giving a kind word to all. She tries to help her roommate when she can.

She enjoys the daily activity programs. Sandra says she enjoys bingo and the live music the most.

“It’s one day at a time,” she says.

Lancashire Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

‘The therapists are wonderful’

Aldrema McMillan has her sights set on the future—when she can leave Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center fully or partially recovered. And she knows the care she is receiving at Lancashire will get her there.

“I appreciate the therapists here,” she says. “They really worked with me to recover. Whether it’s a partial or complete recovery, I’m (hopefully) going home.”

Lancashire Resident Aldrema McMillan

Aldrema is recovering from a fall in which she injured her neck. She moved into Lancashire in August 2021, and hopes by this August, she will move home.

“I do like it here,” she says. She has a private room and enjoys the activities programs. She also likes having a bird feeder out of her window.

“The therapists are wonderful,” she says. Aldrema is working with occupational and physical therapists in her recovery.

She is originally from Lancaster County. While she has detoured to New York City, northern Virginia and the Peninsula, she returned to her home county for her rehab.

Aldrema left for NYC after high school.

“The journey to New York is the ultimate challenge,” she said. “If you can live there, you can live anywhere.”

It was there she met her husband, who worked for TWA and then American Airlines at airports in the Mid-Atlantic. They lived on Long Island, and she took the train into Manhattan for her job as an underwriter for New York Life Insurance.

They married in 1972 and had four children.

Her husband, who passed away in 2009, worked at JFK for 20 years before being transferred to various other airports. When she moved to the Peninsula, he remained in northern Virginia most of the time because of his work schedule.

She has seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, most of whom live on the Peninsula and come to visit.

“All a nice bunch. I enjoy them,” she says of her family.

Aldrema enjoyed the prom at Lancashire on May 3, 2022.

She worked as a dispatcher for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Department, earning awards and recognition. She retired in 2013.

“I was trying to enjoy (retirement) gracefully,” she says, until her fall. “Everything is coming back except the walking.”

Aldrema continues to work with the rehab team at Lancashire on her recovery. She’s an advocate for herself and other Residents, never hesitating to speak up.

“No sense in keeping quiet,” she says with a smile.

Colorful relaxation

Mildred Clark has called Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center home for the past six years. She knows she needs the extra care the team provides, and it allows her to be close to her daughter.

“I like here,” she says. “I’ve been satisfied.”

You can usually find her coloring in her room. The pages are intricate, full of detail, and Mildred’s hand moves steadily inside the lines with fine-point colored pencils.

Lancashire Resident Mildred Clark.

Before she moved to Lancashire, she said she hadn’t colored since she was a little girl. Her daughter gave her a book and she took off from there. She gives away many of her pages to family and others. Some are framed and displayed in her room.

“It’s really relaxing,” she says. “Takes your mind off of everything.”

It also, along with medication, helped her keep control in her hands from the Parkinson’s disease. She also has COPD and uses oxygen regularly.

Her coloring group at Lancashire doesn’t meet as often as it used to since the pandemic, when movement was more restricted to stop the spread of the virus. But she does get more visitors, including a 3-year-old great-granddaughter she met in person for the first time recently.

“She took right to me,” Mildred says, patting the chair, “and came right up here to color with me.”

Mildred lived in Richmond and has three children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her oldest daughter lives in Lancaster County.

Mildred likes coloring detailed pictures, and finds it relaxing. “Takes your mind off everything,” she says.

She worked for a printing company in Richmond.

“It was hard work,” she says, “It’s physically hard on your body.”

After 14 years there, she retired at age 62 when social security kicked in. She moved in with her oldest daughter about 10 years ago following her divorce, then lived independently until she was in and out of the hospital too often.

“I’ve never lived outside Virginia,” Mildred says. “… I’m not a traveling woman, I don’t think.”

Northampton Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

From Civil Service to model

Marie Collins sits tall in her wheelchair, comfortable dressed with long necklaces and earrings.

She’s proud of her independence, like getting herself out of bed, showered and dressed, and making the bed to start her day at Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Marie will be 98 in August, and her goal is to use the walker to get to her door without needing her therapist to follow behind her with her wheelchair should her legs give out.

Northampton Resident Marie Collins.

She has been a Resident at Northampton since February 2020, and moved from the skilled unit to a single room last August. She’s comfortable, happy with the team members and rehab therapists, and pleased to not have to worry about grocery shopping, cooking or cleaning her space (though she does keep it tidy and dusts).

“I’m an active Resident,” she says. “I love it here. I like the nurses. What more could we want?”

She has even acquiesced to play Bingo, which she says she didn’t enjoy before coming to Northampton.

Marie says it’s been difficult to outlive her friends. But, “here is where my life is now. But I just have acquaintances.”

She spent nearly 45 years of her life as a secretary, and then another 20 as a senior model in several campaigns and with community fashion shows. She spent much of her career in the U.S. Civil Service, retiring in 1986.

Her husband Jim was transferred to Ramstein Air Base in Germany after they met in Texas. She eventually traveled there and they were wed in Germany in 1956. Eventually, he was transferred back to Texas.

She tried to find a job, but was turned away because “you’re an Air Force wife. As soon as I train you, you’ll have to leave. So, I showed them. I joined the Civil Service.”

They were transferred to Hampton, and she took a job at Langley Air Force Base. The couple spent two years in Istanbul, Turkey.

“I loved it, but my husband didn’t. He was in JAG, working with the local police,” she says.

They returned stateside in 1968. Jim had two heart attacks. He was discharged from the Air Force, and the couple returned to Virginia.

Even after he passed in 1970, Marie stayed in Hampton. She spent the last 18 years of her Civil Service career at Langley.

“I never went back to Pennsylvania,” she says.

When her parents passed, she sold her half of the family farm in Hesston, Pennsylvania, back to her sister. Marie’s nephew and his wife live there now, and visit about once a month when she goes to the doctor. They’re her remaining living family.

“If you’re going to live here, you’re going to make the most of it.”

Northampton Resident Marie Collins

In 1994, she sold the Hampton house. She moved into an apartment, and then to smaller apartment on the first floor in 2012.

Through her involvement with the NARFE, she became president of the local chapter, which at one point had nearly 1,000 members (“there’s a lot of retired federal workers here.”)

Her right knee started giving her trouble at 95. “Mother Nature decided it was time to slow me down.”

She wasn’t interested in getting a knee replacement at that age. After a bout with COVID, she moved into Northampton. It’s home now.

“If you’re going to live here, you’re going to make the most of it,” she said of decorating her single room as comfortable as possible.

The Newport Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Go Hokies!

Hampton “Vince” Snidow, 82, has been a Resident of The Newport for about four years. His health prevents him from moving or speaking very much some days, but you can tell by the smile on his face when he hears his wife, Nancy, speak, he’s engaged.

Vince and Nancy married July 21, 1979, and she is still by his side daily. She visits twice a day at meal times, living nearby around Christopher Newport University.

Nancy and Vince Snidow have lived in Newport News most of their lives.

The Snidows have been “community oriented all these years,” actively participating in their churches (North Riverside Baptist and Hidenwood Presbyterian), and with organizations such as Salvation Army, Virginia Living Museum, Peninsula Rescue Mission and Menchville House.

Vince Snidow came to the area after spending three years in the Army, and then the reserves. He worked at the Newport News shipyard for 50 years as a mechanical engineer, retiring in 2011. He worked on several projects, including submarines and aircraft carriers, but also liked working on the commercial projects.

Nancy says they attended several christenings, happily remembering meeting Susan Ford during the keel laying for the carrier named after her father.

The christenings were always “very exciting,” Nancy says, “and it was just funny when they couldn’t break the bottle.”

Vince is originally from Kentucky, and has a sister named Virginia (though she lives in Ohio). He is a Hokie through and through, sporting a Virginia Tech jersey during a recent visit. He was in the Corps at the school, and remains close friends with fellow VT Corps members.

“He keeps the postal service in business,” Nancy says of his room full of cards and tokens from friends and family, and the children from church.

Church friends and his friends from the Army and VT Corps visit when they can, Nancy says.

“Church friends have been supportive of us and kept us going,” she says.

When Nancy visits, she says she tries to stimulate Vince by playing music.

“He still remembers … he likes John Denver, Elvis, classical, bluegrass, hymns,” she says, sorting through a drawer next to his bed of CDs he’s been sent from friends.

“He keeps the postal service in business,” Nancy Snidow says of her husband Vince’s room of cards at The Newport.

Nancy says she and Vince love the outdoors, and they walked the Noland Trail regularly when he was well enough and volunteered to clear it on Earth Day each year.

Their charity work is focused on helping children “improve their lives,” Nancy says. Vince has a rare blood type and he donated his blood, which was used in research to help premature children and cancer patients.

“A lot of children are probably living today who wouldn’t be if it weren’t for those donations,” she says. His gift to immunodeficient patients was outlined in a Daily Press article in 2003.

The Snidows enjoyed traveling, visiting the providences of Canada and several National Parks, including Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Vince also is a big baseball fan, and roots for Reds. They traveled to see games in as many stadiums as possible, Nancy says, including Fenway Park in Boston.

“It was exciting to see the Green Monster.”

After his retirement, Vince started to show signs of Parkinson’s, which prevented the Snidows from traveling as much as they thought they would.

The team at The Newport has become family to the Snidows, Nancy says.

Walter Reed Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Garden caretaker

You can tell he’s spent a majority of his time outdoors by his weathered hands and ballcap.

A former farmer and volunteer firefighter from Deltaville in Middlesex County, Carl Vaughan tends to the courtyard at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center almost daily.

Carl Vaughan tends to a garden in the courtyard of Walter Reed every day the weather cooperates.

“I do it to get outside. I’ve always been an outdoors guy,” he says.

Carl plans his garden at Walter Reed with the help of activity director Julie Boothe. They look over catalogs and she orders his seeds and supplies. The community also provides donations for the courtyard garden.

He started keeping up with the Walter Reed garden around the time of the pandemic in mid-2020.  The Master Gardeners of Gloucester weren’t able to come when visitation was closed, and Carl assumed the caretaking role.

He told Julie, though, “I’m planting vegetables, not flowers.”

Carl also takes care of the plants in the greenhouse.

There are still flowers in the courtyard, but there are lots of other plants as well. Carl has planted peas, patio corn, radishes, cucumbers, lettuces, green peppers, three varieties of squash, and five types of tomatoes.

Why so many? He really enjoys a good tomato sandwich.

Carl rakes the courtyard, waters and manages the greenhouse.

He also lays net over the corn to keep the crows and other birds away.

Carl and Julie plan to experiment with other lettuces in the fall, such as kale.

York Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Soprano & Mathematician

Virginia Wilkinson was a mathematician and a singer. She reads and does crossword puzzles daily. And she’s 105 years old.

Virginia Wilkinson is originally from Portsmouth. She’s called a lot of places home, including York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She enjoys talking with activity director Mary Garrity and appreciates the nursing staff.

York Resident Virginia Wilkinson.

“I don’t have to shop for groceries or cook here. What’s not to like?” she says.

Virginia recalls her youth fondly.

“I had a very happy childhood,” she says. “People always say only children are spoiled, but my parents taught me how to share.”

Her father lost his business during the Great Depression, which she said ended her chance to go to college.

Instead, Virginia worked for NACA —“that’s N.A.C.A., before it was NASA, N.A.S.A.,” she explains —in Hampton and did long division.

“I’ve never done long division like that again,” she said.

She was the lead soprano at Episcopal Church in Portsmouth for eight years.

Virginia was married for 62 years, and her husband worked for Seaboard Air Line Railroad in Norfolk. They were transferred to Richmond, which is where she mostly raised her son.

There are three grandsons, five great-grandsons, and two great-granddaughters. The family is far-flung to places including Norway and Texas, though her son at age 75 lives in Gloucester, within driving distance of York.

She says she enjoyed living in Richmond very much, especially the parties and other railway gatherings she attended with her husband.

“I had a wonderful time meeting all those people,” she says. “I’m a people person … I like to be with people.”

Virginia also enjoyed traveling. Following one business trip, she says her husband came home from a business trip and said, “I’m buying a new car, and you and I are going cross country.”

They traveled to the Pacific Northwest, and from the far-away look in her eye, it’s clear she enjoyed the trip. “It was a wonderful time, just wonderful.”

She reads as much as she can, currently starting a compilation of stories from Jan Karon.

Virginia was paired with roommate Joyce Tracy, who Mary refers to as a “social butterfly.”

‘Social butterfly’

Joyce Tracy is 87 years old, and says she’s had two strokes, which prompted her move to York. But she’s very comfortable getting around in her wheelchair, and visiting various team members and fellow Residents.

“I just do silly things,” she says. “I try to put a smile on peoples’ faces.

Joyce Tracy spent 37 years working for NASA Langley. Now the “Bull Island Girl” flits around York making friends smile.

“I go down the hall and everyone knows my name. … I’ve decided life is too short to worry about being silly.”

Joyce spent 37 years working for NASA Langley in Hampton. She worked in the special documents department of the technical library. Her eyes sparkle a little as she remembers how she needed security clearance to deal with the documents in her care.

She also was a florist, and was able to travel many times while with FTD. She worked there “on and off, between having children.”

Joyce has two daughters who she says help take care of her and four grandchildren.

She is “a Bull Island girl,” from Poquoson.

Her husband was enlisted in the military after high school — “it was the only two years I didn’t live on the Peninsula” — before they returned and he worked in design at the Newport News shipyard.

Joyce retired in 2002. “I’m very fortunate to be as well as I am,” she says.

“This is nice,” she says of York. Her daughters also refer friends and family members looking for a nursing home to York. It’s clean, a great team. The best company (hand gesturing all around).

Virginia is the “perfect” roommate.

“I love everybody,” Joyce said. “Have good fun, that’s what life should be”

Virginia Health Services thanks its team on National Nurses Day

Virginia Health Services celebrates its nursing staff on National Nurses Day (May 6) and every day.

“They are the backbone of this company,” said Rebecca Boyd, Virginia Health Services Vice President of Nursing.

Virginia Health Services thanks its team on National Nurses Day

VHS Vice President of Nursing Rebecca Boyd

The team pulled through a tough year as a pandemic raged. And then again as new variants occurred.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Boyd said. “I truly appreciate them.

“We need to thank our nurses. It’s a hard job. It’s not just physically demanding, it’s mentally and emotionally demanding. We should thank them for their service.”

The experience, skills and knowledge the VHS nursing staff has makes them a valued resource.

“We want to continue to support their education, training and provide resources to help our team do their jobs effectively, so they can be the best nurses they can be,” Boyd said.

Nurses play an integral role in the healthcare and overall wellbeing of patients and residents.

“It’s holistic,” Boyd said. “They are invested in the relationship; they take care of the whole person, in addition to their healthcare concerns.”

VHS employs about 250 nurses, and there is a constant need for more.

VHS is investing in its team. It recently launched an apprenticeship program to develop Care Assistants to Nursing Assistants. The program aims to include development apprenticeships for LPN and RN tracks as well.

Virginia Health Services is hiring for nurses at all levels. Join a team that takes pride in its employees and values the work of nurses. Read more about the available positions on the VHS Careers page.

Virginia Health Services thanks its nursing team for its dedication to the care for its patients and residents.

James River DON shares wisdom from many years with VHS

Virginia Health Services is shining a light on our team members. We want to spotlight the roles our team members play to support individuals to live their best life and showcase the VHS culture. With National Nurses Day on Friday, we are highlighting James River’s Director of Nursing Peggy Evans, who has been a part of the Virginia Health Services family since the 1980s.

There is something about Virginia Health Services that keeps Peggy Evans coming back.

Evans, the Director of Nursing (DON) at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, is on her third stint with VHS. She started with the company as an LPN in the 1980s.

The elderly always has been her passion. She watched her grandparents get older, and says she wanted to make a difference after seeing her grandfather die from leukemia.

“I tried getting out of (working with elderly) a couple of times,” she says with a smile, “but it didn’t work. I wound up right back here.”

Evans left VHS the first time because her child arrived two months ahead of schedule. When she went back to work, it was with the VA as a charge nurse for spinal cord injuries. She worked with a doctor at TPMG and finished RN school.

That’s when she returned to nursing center care. She then became a trainer and after completing a computer course at CNU was traveling often. At some point, the travel between the tunnels became too much.

“I accepted for the third time with VHS and have been here ever since,” she said.

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center IP nurse Danielle Lynch chats with Director of Nursing Peggy Evans.

The DON

It’s the Residents and the staff who have kept her with Virginia Health Services, she said.

Evans was a trainer on the VHS education team, overseeing York, Gloucester and Lancashire. When the drive became too much — “I no longer have to fill up every week” — she returned as DON at James River in February 2021.

Peggy Evans looks at a woman filling glasses from a pitcher.
Evans chats with a team member filling drinking glasses for delivery to the Residents on the unit.

It was a difficult time for her. She had just lost her mother and had two other close deaths over the course of two years. Now her commute is six minutes from her home.

“I like what I do,” she said. “I’m a people person. I enjoy the families and the Residents.”

She was resistant to being a RN — “I wanted hands on,” she said.

While the DON role is more paperwork than people some days, she says she can sneak in a cigarette occasionally with Residents. And she dances “when my bones, when my joints will let me.

“I like being involved and seeing a smile on their face.”

Words of wisdom

Evans has a lot of advice for new hires to her nursing team. And she says she faces them all with an open-door policy — “let’s talk through a problem or an issue.”

“I check on new hires at least once daily,” she says. “I like being out there (on the floor).”

Her best advice for a new hire: “Do what you’re supposed to do the right way, every day. … Then you don’t have to worry about how to do it the right way.”

She also suggests being receptive to constructive criticism.

And she recommends the nursing staff listen to the CNAs.

“They know the Residents best,” she said.

Some of the CNAs at James River have been there for 30 years. Some nurses too. Sometimes it takes time to get a seasoned employee on the same page as a new hire. Evans recommends patience.

“We admit families, too,” she said. “We all become a team and work together to help the Resident.

“A happy staff makes happy care.”

James River DON Peggy Evans speaks with two employees at the nurses station.
James River DON Peggy Evans speaks with two employees at a nurses station at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

VHS family

Virginia Health Services is Resident and employee oriented, she said.

What’s made Evans return to VHS time after time?

“VHS is family. I have been very well taken care of by VHS in my tenure here, even with all the hardships and deaths in my family,” she says.

And she leaves this nugget of wisdom, which is universally applicable: “I feel like change is good because it opens up another rainbow. It gets you going in another direction.”

Join the team

Virginia Health Services is hiring nurses, including several positions at James River. Want to work with Peggy? Apply for the ADON position, or as a CNA, LPN or RN. Visit vahs.com/careers for a complete list of job opportunities at James River and with VHS.

Individualized patient care key for VHS Home Health Care nurse

Virginia Health Services is shining a light on our team members. We want to spotlight the roles our team members play to support individuals to live their best life and showcase the VHS culture. With National Nurses Day on Friday, we are spotlighting VHS Home Health Care nurse Tia Hunter.

Tia Hunter heard about VHS Home Health Care from a friend.

She had done some one-on-one visits with patients as a certified nurse assistant (CNA), but hadn’t conducted skilled visits.

A nurse since 2009 — she’s getting ready to take her boards after graduating RN school with Medical Careers Institute — Hunter said she trusted her friend’s suggestion to work together for VHS Home Health Care.

“I love it,” Hunter says of working as an LPN with VHS Home Health Care for the past year and a half.

“For me, I like having that one-on-one with the patient. I’m not rushed; I have that time to focus. And I’m reachable to them.”

Hunter said nurses see on average five to six patients a day.

Day in the life

Portrait of Tia Hunter, an African-American RN with VHS Home Health Care.
Tia Hunter has been a nurse with VHS Home Health Care for more than a year.

VHS Home Health Care serves the Peninsula, Gloucester and Southside. Hunter said where patients live factors into a day’s schedule to account for the travel time.

She said she always has been drawn to senior care.

“I just love them. I think they’re so cute. … My grandma passed and I wanted to know her so bad; I get that when I see my patients,” Hunter said.

The culture at VHS Home Health Care is patient-based.

“For me, I like having that one-on-one with the patient,” Hunter said. “I’m not rushed, I have that focus time, I’m reachable to them.”

Team effort

Working with patients in-home pairs physical, speech and occupational therapists from VHS Rehabilitation with the clinical team at VHS Home Health Care.

“I think it’s a great place to work,” Hunter said. “… We have a good staff. (The clinical team) communicates well with the therapists with VHS Rehab. It’s rare to find a team that blends this well as a whole.”

The team comes together under the leadership of Cheri Brnich, Kelly Cofield and Donna Marchant-Roof, who is the executive director of VHS Home Health Care and Hospice.

“I genuinely just love our management,” Hunter said of Brnich. “I’ve never really had a boss like Cheri. She genuinely cares about us and how we’re doing, are we OK, even outside of work. … It’s very rare you find a company that somebody cares about you as a person. She values us as employees.”

The team of nursing staff, therapists, social workers and other individuals develop a care plan to return an individual to their best life.

“Aha moments”

Hunter takes pride in the “aha moments” that get the individuals she works with back to where they want to be. As individuals usually see the same team of clinicians, if there is a change in status, it can be determined quickly.

“When we’re in the home, sometimes we can stop them from having something happen and could save their life,” she said.

Calls, Google reviews and hearty thank-yous stay with you long after the home health care period ends, Hunter said. “It’s so appreciated.”

The quality of care and consistency of the team is also appreciated.

“Going into a home, sometimes even just 45 minutes, it changes their whole day,” Hunter said. “They love it.”

Join our team

We are hiring full-time LPNs and a full-time RN for our VHS Home Health Care team. For a full list of opportunities, visit vahs.com/careers.

Knitting group at The Arbors shares skills, camaraderie

It’s like being in a private living room. Step off the elevator on the third floor at 1 p.m. Wednesdays and the knitters of The Arbors Independent Living are waiting to greet you warmly.

Especially if you are ready to pick up a needle and yarn.

The knitting club at The Arbors meets once a week, and when they get rolling, it’s 50-50 as to whether they’ll stop for a 2 p.m. activity or keep going.

Pat shows off the afghan she has been working on for about a year. It’s so large, it takes about an hour to do a row.

The leader of the pack is Joyce, who taught knitting while she worked for the Village Stitchery in Newport News for 10 years.

She started knitting at age 9. “You know, you pick it up on and off,” she said.

But the title of fastest knitter, Joyce says, is 95-year-old Doris.

“I’m a fast lady,” she says with a grin.

Shared interest

There are typically about five or six women who gather to knit together and get advice on their projects from Joyce. The open sitting area has comfy furniture, a large window and two bookshelves with containers full of yarn and other knitting materials.

Joyce said they have been meeting for four years, since she moved into The Arbors.

Doris, at 95, is the fastest knitter in the group. “I’m a fast lady,” she jokes.

Doris has been an Arbors resident for five years. She is making hats to be donated to Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters (CHKD).

During a recent meeting, Doris was redoing a child’s scarf to go with a hat she already made. She was unsatisfied with her first attempt and said she ripped the stitching apart to start over.

She learned to knit from her mother, who was “good at everything.”

Doris also can sew and embroider. But it was The Arbors group that drew her back into knitting.

“Joyce got me on it (at The Arbors),” Doris said, “taught me more stuff than I know.”

Teaching & Persistence

Doris said neither of her daughters knit. Joyce added her granddaughters do, but like it when she corrects their mistakes because “then I finish the row.”

She has been giving Pat tips on her afghan, which she has been working on for about a year.

Joyce measures a needle size. She worked at Village Stitchery for several years.

“I’m persistent if nothings else,” Pat said. She found the perfect colors of yarn for it so it matches her apartment décor.

“I learned to knit and sew years ago and then took a break,” she said. The group at The Arbors drew her back into it.

Joyce recently made a blanket in bright pink yarn for her soon-to-be great-granddaughter.

There are about four to five consistent group members, though others will pop in, depending on what’s going on, Joyce said.

Doris added that it’s the people who keep her going. And activity director Ora Williams, who is learning to knit with the group.

“She has so much energy, she makes me have the energy,” Doris said.

Charge nurse finds niche on Walter Reed’s Memory Care unit

Sometimes you find exactly what you’re looking for in a career, even later in life.

For Christine Brooks, an LPN at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, taking ownership in the care of the Residents on the Abingdon Memory Care unit made her realize even after 30 years in long-term care, you can grow into a different role.

“I never thought I’d be a charge nurse. I thought I’d be a floor nurse for the rest of my life, and I was cool with it,” she said. “After working in Memory Care, working with (the Residents) consistently and really getting to know them, and (the Walter Reed team) giving me the opportunity to do what I’ve been able to do here … I’m not going anywhere.”

Brooks is the charge nurse for the Abingdon unit. Walter Reed Administrator Bryant Hudgins said once the revamped Memory Care unit opened earlier this year, Brooks really took ownership of the unit.

When Abingdon opened, Brooks said she asked Walter Reed Director of Nursing Lana Ketch to be a part of it.

“I love Memory Care,” Brooks said. “I don’t know why.”

But she does. It’s clear in every sentence when she talks about the Residents.

Much of Brooks’ family has passed away, except for her children and brother. She says the Residents are her family.

“I just want the unit to feel like family,” she said.

It extends from the Residents and their families to the staff on the unit.

“We’re all in this together. We have to make the best of it, make it work. This is their home,” Brooks said.

Encouraging family to visit can sometimes be a challenge because it’s discouraging the Resident doesn’t remember who they are or that they visited.

“Just being there will make them happy even if they don’t quite know who you are,” she said. “You see that glimmer, even if it’s just for a second.”

What is Memory Care?

Residents live on secured Memory Care units to prevent wandering. They are memory-impaired, including having dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The units have private dining and relaxation areas. Abingdon also has a Snoozelen Room, which can be used for sensory therapy such as mood lighting and aroma therapy.

Walter Reed is recruiting team members for its Memory Care units, which have occupancy for up to 51 Residents. There is a need for nursing staff, among other positions.

What it takes

Consistency in staffing is key for Residents on the Memory Care unit.

“When I have regular staff who knows the team and knows the Residents, you build rapport with them,” Brooks said.

Knowing what to expect on the unit goes a long way. Being flexible and having patience are necessary.

“Knowing the process, what calms them, it helps avoid agitating a Resident,” she said.

“To me, it’s not complicated. It’s more common sense. … A lot of memory care is being flexible and being able to ad lib and roll with it. … You are not going to retrain them to do something. You have to redirect them.”

During meals, Brooks plays music to help calm and focus the Residents while they eat.

“They eat so much better,” she said.

She goes through a list of questions when there is a new admission, asking family members what the Resident likes, what are their behaviors and triggers, what types of music they enjoy and what they did in their lives.

“Anything they can think of that can benefit their mom or their dad to communicate with us,” she said.

“You can have somebody having a bad day, put on some music and they can snap out of it.”

There are about 15 Residents on Abingdon right now. A few are more active than others, but it’s a “very good mix. You can see them build relationships with each other,” Brooks said. They sit on the couch in the common area and chat and laugh.

Knowing what types of sensory redirection a Resident needs can settle them.

“I’m not a huggy person, but you can look at person and know they need that comfort,” Brooks said of hugging others or acting like a goofball if it helps a Resident.

“If you truly want to make a difference, if you truly want to do something … Make their lives better. Ask, ‘what can I do?’,” Brooks said.

Christine Brooks stands at the nurses’ station on the Abingdon unit, which houses Residents who need Memory Care.

Big plans

“I’ve got plans for this place,” Brooks said.

She’s pitching several ideas to help Residents “be as independent as possible.” That includes a walking club to help settle some of the more restless Residents. Brooks walks with one Resident regularly and it helps settle him, Assistant Administrator Nicole Beck said.

To execute ideas, Brooks knows she has the support of her leadership and team. Hudgins, Beck, Ketch and others are receptive to ideas that help the Residents live their best life.

“I’ve got some awesome staff,” she said. “We couldn’t do what we are doing without the support of Walter Reed team. … We want families to be comfortable when they come in.”

She said she may over-communicate with family, but it ensures families know what is happening with their loved ones.

“The family’s biggest fear is you’re hiding something from them,” she said.

Brooks says she is going to see her plans through.

“I would never want to do anything else. I don’t see myself ever not being a part of this. … I have no intentions of spreading my wings anywhere other than here.”

Apply now

There’s no better time to start a path in Memory Care. Our wages start at $15.50-$21/hour for CNAs, $25-$33/hour for LPNs and $30-$40/hour for RNs. VHS offers generous shift differentials and pick-up bonuses, and the benefits of working with an experienced team.

Virginia Health Services offers assistance in pursuing nursing education, and full- and part-time positions are eligible for benefits including health and dental insurance, and paid leave. VHS also offers a 401K retirement plan to eligible employees.

Get started today at vahs.com/careers.

VHS freshens up supplement program

Virginia Health Services is rolling out a natural supplement program to help enhance Residents’ diets and get away from using commercial supplements by replacing them with more natural ingredients.

The program launched Wednesday at The Arbors Independent Living with a smoothie demonstration from Chef Akira Johnston and a presentation by VHS Director of Dining and Nutrition Viki Reynolds.

The Arbors Residents enjoyed the fruit smoothie of peach, pineapple, mango and fruit juices. As the program amps up, other ingredients, such as leafy greens, berries and protein will be added to the smoothies further enhance nutritional benefits, Reynolds said.

The program also may include other natural snacks such as a yogurt bar or nutritional cookies because “you probably don’t want a smoothie every day,” Reynolds said.

Any time you use real food over something processed you end up getting more nutritional benefits, she added.

The program is starting at VHS’s independent living community before it’s rollout in its assisted living communities and nursing and rehabilitation centers. Eventually, it may be incorporated into individual care plans to replace commercial supplements.

Residents who are at higher risk, not eating well or losing weight will most benefit from the program. The natural ingredients will be high in nutritional benefits, Reynolds said, and the snack program will be served in between meals.

Good smoothies

Reynolds, a registered dietician, laid out the key ingredients to a healthy smoothie. It should be a balance of about three ingredients that have varying nutritional benefits. Fruits, berries and a dark leafy green help add fiber, vitamin K, sweetness and antioxidants.

You also should include a source of protein, such as powdered milk, nut or dairy milk, peanut butter or yogurt. Smoothies at long-term care centers would include proteins, she said.

“I’ve seen it work”

Reynolds has worked in other facilities, including Memory Care centers. She said she has seen the natural supplement program work. It’s a good way to get nutrition into Residents who struggle to focus on eating full meals.

The healthy snack program will be incorporated into the daily activity program and the social aspect of the program helps bring Residents out of their rooms.

Name it

An Arbors Resident considers naming options during the program launch Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

During the inaugural smoothie rollout, the Residents at The Arbors were asked to select and vote on a name. They were really engaged in the process, so stay tuned for our officially named healthy supplement snack program. Choices included: VHS (Vital, Healthy, Snack burst), VHS Gold Burst, VHS Bright Blends and VHS Flavor Favor. Residents also were encouraged to write-in their own.